WMC head calls for removing ‘America’s Dairyland’ from license plates

WMC President and CEO Kurt Bauer says “America’s Dairyland” should be removed from Wisconsin’s license plates and replaced with something more contemporary like “Forward.”

He made the suggestion at Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce’s fifth annual State of Wisconsin Business & Industry Luncheon in Madison yesterday, saying this replacement “connotes resolve, indomitability and progress.”

“It’s our state motto — has been since about 170 years ago — and it’s not a bad image to project to the rest of the world,” he said.

But he said people outside the state hold misperceptions about Wisconsin jobs, namely that they are largely agriculture-dominated. Bauer said the move would help the state improve its economic brand.

And, he said, the arrival of the Taiwanese technology company Foxconn in Mount Pleasant would also help in the effort.

“Foxconn can help us change that misperception by highlighting the diversity of jobs we have in technology, manufacturing, health care, biotech, education and the professional trades, just to name a few,” Bauer said.

Bauer also touted a series of positive steps the state’s made in recent months, including Foxconn selecting Wisconsin, the state’s bond rating upgrade from Moody’s over the summer and more.

“All of these are positive signs Wisconsin is heading in the right direction, in validation of the reforms we’ve been working on since 2011,” Bauer said. “And all of the most stubborn deniers have to agree.”

He said from his perspective, the most important metric for a state’s performance is “whether or not you can find a job — and not just a job, a career.”

Defining a career as a position with good wages, benefits and opportunities for advancement, Bauer said anyone “who has initiative and is drug-free” can find a career in the state.

“Wisconsin, in fact, has more jobs than we have people, and that demographic issue isn’t going to change anytime soon,” he said.

He said 77 percent of WMC’s member companies are having trouble finding people to hire, also noting that the Applied Population Lab at UW-Madison says this problem won’t get any better between now and 2040.

“Workforce is without question the mega-economic challenge for the state,” he said. “If you’re not able to replace the retiring baby boomers, you are looking at erosion of the tax base that stresses our K-12 education, our UW System, our transportation infrastructure and Medicaid, just to name a few.”

In contrast, he characterized the Foxconn deal — with its promised 10,000 construction jobs, 13,000 direct jobs, and 22,000 indirect jobs — as a “mega-opportunity” for Wisconsin.

“It can draw people into the state,” he said. “The Foxconn announcement was done in the East Room of the White House live on almost all the cable networks. You can’t buy that kind of publicity, and it sends a message that Wisconsin can compete in the big leagues.”

–By Briana Reilly, Alex Moe